By:
March 11, 2021

Andrea Sahouri, the Des Moines Register reporter arrested while reporting at a racial justice protest last year, has been found not guilty in a case that many journalism advocates thought should have never even gone to trial in the first place. Sahouri was acquitted of the two misdemeanor charges against her: failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Had she been found guilty, she could have been fined and jailed for up to 30 days.

Her acquittal is good news. But there is sobering news, as well.

Before we — and by “we” I mean those of us who care about press freedoms — celebrate, we need to pause to remember that authorities took this case as far as they could and tried to convict Sahouri of a crime. We can be thankful that the jury did the right thing, but it doesn’t erase that police arrested her and prosecutors did everything in their power to punish her.

For doing her job.

Sahouri was covering protests in Des Moines last May and her then-boyfriend was with her for safety. While running from tear gas set off by police, Sahouri’s boyfriend was hit by a projectile. She stopped to check on him and, a short time later, was pepper-sprayed and restrained with zip ties by a police officer. She said she identified that she was a journalist, yet was still arrested. So was her boyfriend, who also has been acquitted.

Sahouri testified, “I put up my hands and I say ‘I’m press’ because he was coming like, right at me, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to run from officers. He grabbed me, he pepper-sprayed me and said, ‘That’s not what I asked.’”

While testifying, Sahouri said, “It’s important for journalists to be on the scene and document what’s happening. Protests erupted not just across the country but all over the world. I felt like I was playing a role in that. I know we are a small city, but I felt like I was playing a role in that.”

Prosecutors tried to argue that Sahouri still committed illegal acts even though she is a journalist. They argued she didn’t disperse when ordered. But the defense argued the scene was chaotic and police were giving conflicting messages. In addition, they claimed, Sahouri and her boyfriend were moving away from the crowd when they were detained.

The officer who stopped them did not activate his body camera, but another officer who arrived on the scene had his camera on. In that video, Sahouri was heard saying, “This is my job. This is my job. I’m just doing my job. … I was sent here. … I’m a journalist.”

More than 100 journalists were arrested last year covering protests. The majority of those charges were dropped, but some of the cases are still pending. This was the only one to go to trial … so far. In their story for The New York Times, Katie Robertson and Rachel Abrams detail some of the other journalists who were arrested doing their jobs and are still scheduled to be tried.

After the verdict at the end of the three-day trial, Sahouri said, “I’m thankful to the jury for doing the right thing. Their decision upholds freedom of the press and justice in our democracy.”

She also tweeted a photo of her arrest with one word: “Acquitted.”

In a statement, Carol Hunter, the executive editor of The Des Moines Register, said, “We are grateful that the jury saw this case as the unjust prosecution of a reporter who was doing her job. Newsgathering is a fundamental part of press freedom. Reporters need to be at protests as the public’s eyes and ears, to conduct interviews, take photos and witness for themselves the actions of protesters and law enforcement.”

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown said, “We are relieved that the jury rightfully found journalist Andrea Sahouri not guilty on all charges. The First Amendment clearly protects the rights of journalists to report on protests and demonstrations, and today’s decision upholds those essential protections. No journalist should be arrested or prosecuted simply for doing their job and working to bring important information to their communities.”

You would think Brown’s statement, that journalists should not be arrested or prosecuted for doing their job, would be obvious. But disturbingly there are those — such as police and prosecutors in Des Moines — who do not share that belief.

Making history in the morning

On Monday, “CBS This Morning” had more viewers than both NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

What’s significant about that? It’s the first time it has ever happened. (Well, at least as far back as when they started keeping records of such things in 1991.)

So why did it happen?

Once again, it was Oprah Winfrey’s blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Monday’s “CBS This Morning” featured an interview with Winfrey, as well as never-seen clips from the Harry and Meghan interview, which aired on CBS Sunday night. “CBS This Morning” drew 4.793 million viewers on Monday — a 74% jump from the previous Monday.

Needless attacks

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

This week, New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz put out this tweet: “For international women’s day please consider supporting women enduring online harassment. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the harassment and smear campaign I’ve had to endure over the past year has destroyed my life. No one should have to go through this.”

She followed up with several more tweets about the same topic.

That set off a couple of Fox News personalities. Glenn Greenwald retweeted Lorenz and said, “Taylor Lorenz is a star reporter with the most influential newspaper in the US, arguably the west. Her work regularly appears on its front page. Her attempt to claim this level of victimhood is revolting: she should try to find out what real persecution of journalists entails.”

He followed up with several more tweets, including, “If you’re going to insinuate yourself into polarizing political debates and report (or pretend to ‘report’) on the powerful, you’ll be ‘attacked’ online. It can be extra toxic due to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc but it’s still just online insults. That’s not persecution.”

Lorenz responded to Greenwald by tweeting, “‘She should try to find out what real persecution of journalists entails’ is exactly the type of threatening dog whistle commentary that contributes to harassment campaigns. It’s not ok. Female journalists, stars or not, should not have to endure harassment for doing their job.”

Lorenz is exactly right. But, of course, right doesn’t matter to some who thought this would be good fodder for lazy TV commentary.

On his show Tuesday night, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said Lorenz was “at the very top of journalism’s repulsive little food chain.” He mocked Lorenz and said she has a great life — one of the best in the country. That’s just a taste of what was said by Carlson, who clearly knew his commentary would rile up his viewers and that many of those viewers would go after Lorenz online.

Steve Peoples, chief political reporter for The Associated Press, tweeted about Carlson: “This is dangerous and disgusting. Someone asks for help after suffering online harassment, and this man mocks her in prime time — using her full name five separate times — in an obvious attempt to encourage more harassment. We are better than this.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure Carlson is not better than that.

Criticizing someone’s work is fair game. But Jezebel’s Rich Juzwiak points out that the online harassment of Lorenz has gone well beyond criticizing her: “Lorenz has claimed that people have attempted to hack into her accounts to change her passwords, sent her ‘vicious disgusting threats,’ trolled her on Clubhouse by changing their profile pics to those of her public antagonists, and set up Twitter accounts to impersonate her.”

Juzwiak added, “Carlson’s decision to pick on this young reporter and parade her as an example of what’s wrong with progressives and/or women today is ghoulish.”

The New York Times put out this statement on Wednesday: “In a now familiar move, Tucker Carlson opened his show last night by attacking a journalist. It was a calculated and cruel attack, which he regularly deploys to unleash a wave of harassment and vitriol at his intended target. Taylor Lorenz is a talented New York Times journalist doing timely and essential reporting. Journalists should be able to do their jobs without facing harassment.”

In a statement, Fox News said, “No public figure or journalist is immune to legitimate criticism of their reporting, claims or journalistic tactics.”

Carlson dedicated another segment to Lorenz on Wednesday night. He essentially doubled down on his comments, severely downplayed the harassment Lorenz has received and continued to mock Lorenz and the Times. He then had on a guest — The Federalist’s Sean Davis — to trash Lorenz’s work. In other words, Carlson did everything you would expect Carlson to do and it was repugnant.

Back to work

The Washington Post is going to attempt to bring journalists back to the office this summer. In a note to staff, publisher Fred Ryan said about 10% of the workforce will start returning July 6 and that the Post hopes everyone can return “sometime this fall.” If staffers can return in July, they will have been out of the office for about 16 months.

The Post, however, has been doing just fine as a company even during the pandemic. As The Hill’s Thomas Moore notes, “The newspaper plans to add more than 150 jobs this year, bringing newsroom headcount to a record 1,000-plus employees, according to a December announcement.”

Ryan closed his note by writing, “These have been challenging times when the mission of The Washington Post and the work we do has made a profound difference. As publisher, I could not be more proud of all the work that you have done at this time when it could not be more critical to the needs of our readers and the health of our democracy. I want to thank you — each of you — for the incredible contributions you have made in what I know will be a very important chapter in the history of The Washington Post.”

Done deal

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

I mentioned this in Wednesday’s newsletter, but now it’s officially a done deal. ESPN and ABC have reached a seven-year deal to carry the National Hockey League for the first time since 2004. Numbers weren’t disclosed, but The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss is reporting that ESPN/ABC will pay the NHL more than $2.8 billion. The agreement means ABC will carry four Stanley Cup final series over the seven years. ESPN/ABC will air 25 regular-season games per season, as well as some additional playoff games.

But here’s the really interesting part: Each season, 75 games will be aired exclusively on ESPN+ — the network’s streaming service. Those games won’t be seen in local markets unless viewers have purchased ESPN+. In addition, more than 1,000 out-of-market games will be streamed on ESPN+ and Hulu.

As you can see, streaming was a big part of this deal — and could set the tone for future sports league TV deals. ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro even said, “Streaming really is at the heart of this deal.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “Everybody knows that there’s cord-cutting and everybody knows that these streaming platforms are growing dramatically.”

This is only part of the NHL TV deal. Another network also is expected to strike a deal to carry games. That network could be NBC, which currently has the American TV deal with the NHL. NBC Sports is in the final year of a 10-year deal in which they paid the NHL $2 billion.

The Undefeated’s special project

ESPN’s The Undefeated has begun publishing Dwayne Bray’s four-part profile of the family of multi-Grammy Award-winning musician Anderson .Paak. Part 1 — “You don’t know the half of it: The family that gave us Anderson .Paak” — was published Wednesday. Parts 2, 3 and 4 will be published today, Friday and Saturday.

Bray first wrote about Anderson .Paak’s father and uncle for a Los Angeles Times story in 1994.

In a statement, Bray said, “I’m writing it from the standpoint of being his former neighbor. At the time I was Anderson’s neighbor and family friend, I didn’t know the attempted-murder case I was covering as a Los Angeles Times reporter was actually the trial of .Paak’s dad — even though .Paak and my son, Dwayne Jr., were good friends then. It took me 20 years to figure it all out and then I have spent the past six-plus years thinking about the family, researching their story, and now, writing about them for The Undefeated.”

Munn speaks out

Actress Olivia Munn (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Actress Olivia Munn is speaking out on the controversy involving newly-named Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Alexi McCammond, who put out another apologetic statement Wednesday night. Following McCammond’s hire, more than 20 staffers at Teen Vogue signed a letter this week with concerns about McCammond because of anti-Asian tweets she posted in 2011. Condé Nast, which owns Teen Vogue, put out a statement that seemed to stand behind McCammond and the hiring.

McCammond told the staff in a letter earlier this week that she was “beyond sorry for what you have experienced over the last twenty-four hours because of me.” She also acknowledged she “perpetuated harmful and racist stereotypes about Asian Americans.”

While appearing on NBC News Now’s “The Racism Virus” special on Wednesday night, Munn told NBC News’ Vicky Nguyen, “I think it’s important for people to hear her say that these were racist comments and there’s nothing excusable about,” adding: “I think that for myself and other people in our community, it would just be nice for her to just say exactly what it is. Call it what it is, it was, it was a racist stupid remark.”

Munn said McCammond’s tweets were “hard to read,” adding, “I remember growing up and having people tease me for my mom’s Asian eyes, for my Asian eyes, and it’s a triggering thing to read. I think she should be judged more on how she’s taking the responsibility today.”

Munn also said, “We’ve all said silly things and she was 17 at the time. So, I definitely think there is, you know, a lot that we have to kind of give her some grace on for that.”

Then later Wednesday night, McCammond shared another statement addressed to the “Teen Vogue community, staff, readers, writers, photographers, content creators, and friends.” She said this has been one of the hardest weeks of her life “in large part because of the intense pain I know my words and my announcement have caused so many of you.” She also said, “I’m so sorry to have used such hurtful and inexcusable language.”

McCammond’s lengthy statement went on to say she knows she doesn’t have the trust of many and there’s “a lot of work” to do to get it. She also said she is committed to uplifting and reflecting the AAPI community. She concluded by saying, “To better days ahead — of which I know there are many.”

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Lachlan Cartwright have more of what has been going on at Teen Vogue.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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